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Prepping for The Riddle of Steel - questions!

Started by Ron Edwards, April 15, 2002, 12:28:07 PM

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Ron Edwards


This thread is mainly directed to Jake Norwood, but anyone else is welcome too.

In order to avoid repetition, I recommend this absolutely excellent thread at, which Jake and others have put a lot of time into, as well as the combat demo and other material at the Driftwood Publishing website.

I'm planning to play this game a fair amount, as it offers the only other attempt besides Sorcerer & Sword that I know of to address real sword-and-sorcery in a book-published RPG (Epiphany hints at it ... I should mention some good internet stuff out there too, like Tales of the Carnelian Coast and Zenobia). It also offers, as far as I can tell based on reading and discussion with the designers, a Narrativist system that uses fairly hefty Simulationist support mechanics - which historically has almost always resulted in a switch-around that prioritizes the Simulationist angle. It seems to me as if they've taken a lot of care to keep the "concept flow" going in the primary direction. Whether it works will have to wait for actual play, especially long-term - and I intend to do it.

Anyway, as I prep, a number of questions have cropped up that I'd like some help with. With any luck, the questions and answers will generate interest among Forge folks. I apologize in advance if any of this repeats issues from the thread; I peruse that thread regularly to avoid that, but I might have missed some things (plus, a lot of those guys don't have the book and are asking more general questions).

1) The basic resolution system has two "dials" to spin for difficulty: the number of dice rolled in opposition (the main one, I think) vs. the adjustment to the PC's target number. I have found in practice that such systems create some havoc during play, and that there's no downside to picking one or the other technique and sticking with it alone. Jake did mention this issue on the thread and allowed as how he tends to stick with the first technique, which is just what I would think ...

My question is, can one simply jettison the second technique from play without losing resolution? Is there any crucial mechanic, perhaps embedded in a combat maneuver or the magic system, that assumes the target-number adjustment is a regular part of play? (I looked but couldn't find one, but some of that stuff is a dense read.) My guess is "Yes."

2) Based on the Counter maneuver text and the Accuracy Gift, one can modify the d6 hit-location roll in some way. In other words, I see the hit location roll, and I see these texts refer to a modification of it (so they are secondary or alternate modifications), but I can't find the primary modification rule. Help ...?

3) Consider a Default Proficiency - e.g., I'm a Cut & Thrust guy, but I'm using a dagger 'cause it's all I've got. Now, do I have the Dagger Maneuvers (for which I have the requisite Pool value) that do not correspond to Cut & Thrust Maneuvers, if any? Or should a Default Proficiency be handled in the "Maneuver-less" fashion, just relying on the basic dice-allocation and weapon range modifiers? Or rather, do I get Dagger Maneuvers, but only if they correspond to Cut&Thrust Maneuvers - i.e., I am Cut & Thrusting with my dagger?

4) Those Proficiences again ... according to the immediate text and following the model based on the skills, one calculates one's Default value by taking the other value listed and modifying it. Thus, to use the guy above, I'm using the Dagger (call it "A"), so I go to my Cut & Thrust Proficiency (call it "B") and modify it using the value given in the Dagger Maneuver text. In other words, not using the value given in the Cut & Thrust Maneuver text.

That all seems sensible, until I look at the character example in PC creation, and evidently he is using the opposite logic - his Default value is apparently calculated by using the text in Maneuver A, not in B. Help ...?

[As a secondary issue, I found the text about which Maneuvers are or are not "automatically known" to be fairly buried, in the descriptions of the Maneuvers. Took a bit of effort to parse it out of there.]

5) Where do the Wound/TN values per body part come from? It looks like Toughness, but the only place I found to judge this comes off the example PC sheet. I'm sure I just missed it, so I guess I'm really asking for a page reference.

6) I confess to being boggled by some of the Sorcery text (Rick McCann's prose is not as clear as Jake's, I think). Specifically, if Duration is one of the factors of spell design (setting the scale at seconds vs. minutes vs. hours), and if one designates Instant (maintainable) vs. Constant, and if the roll determines how long the eventual spell will last ... than what's all this about incorporating Summoning? Why is that necessary for designating a spell to be Constant (is that what it does, anyway?) It seems excessively crunchy when all the mechanics for Duration are apparently already accounted for.

In other words, I understand the distinction between Instant and Constant, and I see how the different Flight spells in the example "work" in game terms ... what I don't see is why or how the Summoning Vagary needs to be involved, as the CTN is already raised by boosting the Duration scale.

Maybe I need just one more go-through of reading, but while I do that, maybe a word of clarification will help me focus better.

7) A given point of a Spiritual Attribute may be used ... how often? Only once per session? (I was planning on reviewing this before posting, but I didn't and the book is not readily to hand. Sorry if I'm off-base on this.)

If it's only once per session, frankly, that seems a little tight. These are supposed to be the core of the game, the big pay-off - when you use'em, that's the theme music and everything all at once. If I have (say) Conscience 3, that's one good modifier on one single exchange during a fight (as it seems splitting it up into three 1-die bonuses ain't much oomph).

That's pure speculation, of course, as I haven't played yet. But it's informed speculation based on how often relationship and ideology augmentation get used in my play of Hero Wars - the players use that stuff all the time and it never has an adverse effect on play-experience to see it in action. So my question is, how often do you envision people using those Spiritual Attributes for bonuses? A lot? A little? Do you see any downside to permitting them to refresh during a session, and I don't mean during a "six months pass" interval, but more on a scene-by-scene basis?

8) One thing I'm really, really curious about is the role of spending the Spiritual Attributes (i.e. diminishing them) as the basis for improving various elements of the character. This puzzles me a bit ... it seems to me that if I'm all fired up about, say, my Faith, then it creates kind of a thematic "jar" to beef up some skill value ... and suddenly diminish my Faith as a generalized bonus. If I squint, I can see it, in that I've kind of focused that Faith-based commitment to (say) my Intimidation skill. But I can't see why the general value of Faith would go down.

I'm not asking "why" in an in-game justification sense - this isn't about in-game-world logic. It's primarily a thematic, metagame question. The idea is that I've really put a lot of role-playing effort in order to max out the guy's Faith; he's a Faithful warrior - which, in my reading and as confirmed in dialogue with you, is part of my answer to the Riddle insofar as this story is concerned. It seems as if improving the character's abilities means diminishing my power/authority to answer the Riddle!

Any discussion or commentary about how that mechanic works out in long-term play would be appreciated.


Ron Edwards


I thought I'd put some basic comments up as well, so people don't get the wrong idea from my above post that The Riddle of Steel is nothin' but a squinty-eyed rewrite of early RuneQuest (I grant you, there are many similarities).

Here's my first post there:
What impresses me most about The Riddle of Steel is something that doesn't show up in demos much, and I'll look forward to seeing it in action as soon as my copy arrives in the mail. Specifically: the personality or "spiritual" mechanics. A character has several of these, named variously as Faith, Passion, Honor, and similar. They act as metagame mechanics on any other roll you make, if the passion or whatever applies to the situation.

In other words, fighting some random schmoe uses the plain old combat rules (speed, weapon, etc, etc), but fighting the Six-Fingered Man gets you all sorts of bonuses since your various personality scores are involved.

If I understand correctly, they may shift in value over time as play continues, so that perhaps your drive for vengeance may cool or your love for the princess may grow.

Historically, personality mechanics are used in two ways: (1) as a kind of mental hit points (as in Call of Cthulhu) and (2) as a set of parameters which a character should not stray from without being penalized (alignment in AD&D; psychological disadvantages as in Champions or GURPS). Recently, a lot of games are using them as "pumps" instead of limits, and The Riddle of Steel provides a really solid example of this trend. Wedding this idea to sword-and-sorcery is, in my view, something that role-playing has needed for a very long time.

In other words, the title of the game is not just fluff. It's about what kind of hero you, the player, think is the most important kind.




I brewed up a table-heavy hit location system some years ago, and have some reservations about the approach.  Would you like to give an idea of what draws you to the game, system or setting wise?

Well, I ran the prog and now I have some concerns.  Although the simultaneous resolution looks reasonable.  Do these have a particular relevance to the spiritual attributes you mentioned (other than the tables, obviously).
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


I might as well throw in my questions while we're at it.  I've been to the site and looked over the combat stuff.  It seems that the system is largely based on 'calling maneuvers.'  When there ARE actual tactics built into the game system (like 7th Sea's Swordsman schools) I prefer that those tactics be based on verbal commands, like, "I parry!".  

The reason I REALLY dislike D&D and d20 in general is because of it's emphasis on terrain and positioning centric tactics.  Basically to play D&D3E or other d20 games 'properly' you NEED minitures because there are just too many cover/concealment/Attacks of Opportunity/Flanking/etc rules that require visual diagrams to work everything out.  Basically combat ends up having a very board game/war game feel to it that I really dislike.

So my question is, to what degree do physical terrain and positioning factors enter into the system.  Can the game be played entirely without the use of minitures or visual representations and without losing anything from the system?  So far it looks like it can, but obviously one example isn't representative of the whole.

Also, how hard is it to stat up an NPC for combat or other interactions for that matter?  Another thing I really dislike about d20 is the 'trickle down' character generation system.  If I want to stat up a character I have to do so in full because every minor adjustment 'trickles down' all over the character sheet.  To say that an NPC has a Diplomacy rating of +7 implies a LARGE number of other statistical factors about that NPC.

I'm sorry for all the comparisons to D&D but when I see a game that heavily advertises itself based on 'realism' of 'strategy' and 'tactics' I imediately think of D&D which in my opinion is the best implementation of a 'strategy' and 'tactics', if not 'realistic', RPG to date.  And because I dislike it so much, I'm very suspicious of any other game that talks heavily about such concerns integrated into its design.



Edited Note: Just to be clear when I say I'm 'suspicious' I mean I'm suspicious about how much *I* personally would enjoy playing the game.  Not suspicious of the quality of design, in general.


Since I picked up TROS two weeks ago, I thought I might as well chip in too.  It's got a great level of strategy within the combat which makes my inner gamist rejoice.

You can play the game without using any of the manuevers actually.  The basis is a combat pool which you can use for offense, defense, and special moves. Depending on how you allocate it, you can really kick ass or get slaughtered.

The other great thing is terrain is taken into account without requiring miniatures, and it does something I've never seen in other games(as far as explicit sim):  It provides that you can manuever yourself so that one of your opponents is in the way of the others if you are outnumbered(sorry, its just a great thing from a martial arts/sim vantage! glee!).

Although I think the thing that I really like is that magic is absolutely kickass and unbalanced, and there's good reason why people fear it.  The setting also plays up the fae as fae, not as our"pointy eared neighbors".  Lots of nice stuff in there.

As far as NPC generation, it looks like they boiled down the basics of what characters come to in combat in the back section.  Most of the types of characters I would expect to see, as well as animals were included, and I can pretty much estimate from there.  Also interesting to note is that the mentality or tactics of such opposition is also included.

My only major concern with playing TROS is making sure people have a way to continue playing during a session if one of their characters is crippled or killed.



Hmm, indeed.  I noticed my foirst explicit concern in the little DOS prog - a jarr between what I was visualising and what was being mechanically determined, the very opposite of what the system is meant to do.  I was visualising a fight in which a succesful blow was delivered to the torso, with that attacker maintaining initiative.  So - should the hit locations not change to reflect the now-doubled-over stance of my opponent?
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Ron Edwards

Hi folks,

I learned that real life is keeping Jake occupied, but rest assured he'll be here soon. Meanwhile, let's keep piling up the questions ...

Except that I actually did the right thing, checked the rulebook, and clarified my understanding of refreshing the Spiritual Attributes.

Only Luck is "used up" fairly mechanically during play. The others are all re-usable to various degrees, and although I kind of wish they'd follow one refreshment-rule rather than being customized separately, my basic concern (that they'd be used up too fast to be important) is taken care of.

To clarify to those who haven't read the rules, these attributes are used as straightforward dice bonuses to whatever rolls you want, in relevant situations. Thus I may have allocated 8 dice to offense and 4 to defense for a given exchange, but I can pile in (say) three dice from my Passion (Queen) into that defense, for instance, if the combat is relevant to her. This is the primary metagame mechanic of play. A great deal of the questions I have about playing this game rely on whether this mechanic plays a central role over the long term.


Jake Norwood

Okay, "real life" is boiling down a bit, as is the thread on, which brings me here. I'll start with Ron's questions (we talked a bit about these on the phone, but you all didn't hear that, so I'll repeat myself)...

1) Once upon a time there were two "dials" available to the GM. Now all that's there in practice is the "dice modifier" dial, but the "TN dial" is still an important part of spellcasting (it's the basis of spellcasting), and so it remains as an "honorary mention." The GM modifies dice, and spellcasters can modify their own TNs as the write spells.

2) I'm not sure I understand the question. The d6 roll named is on the Hit Location/Damage charts, and can be modified up or down by the accuracy gift or by spending 2 dice (for counters, that is--p. 65). Esentially the Accuracy modifier is the only modifier to a standart hit location roll. It seems very clear, so I must not be seeing what you're seeing--let me know if I didn't cover it.

3) If I were Senechal (GM) than I would allow you to use any C&T manuevers that focus entirely on the dagger--bindings, mostly. Otherwise I'd say that the maneuver-less fashion is the way to go.

4) An interesting take on defaults, and now that you mention it I can see how you might look at it that way, but I we tried to put everything "in the same place," for ease of reference. Defaults in the schools are listed at the bottom of the schools, so that if You're using the dagger at default, from your above example, then you'd take the default rating from the bottom of the school that you do have. The way you outline it, however, is an interesting approach--one I'll look into taking for second printing.

5) p. 79. There is no "soak" roll if that's what you're looking for, nor is there any Wound TN... If you read that page again it should be quite clear, but in short you subtract TO and armor (if any) from the damage, resulting in the wound level (1-5) which is cross-reffed on the Damage Tables. That's it. additional damage roll--everything is calculated from the attack roll vs. the defense roll.

6) Instant spells can be held almost indefinitely, giving them a conscioiusly sustained duration (see "Maintaining," vs. "constant" spells, p. 121). Summoning is incorporated to "tie the spell off," as Rob Jordan would say, so that it is self-sustained. And no, Rick's prose is not as clear...

7) You found the answer, I believe? Be generous, I say.


D&D..ack! The tactics are based on verbal commands. Terrain is handled rather abstractly, and I almost never use miniatures in my home games (though the game works fine with them). The "tactics" involved do included positioning (on a more abstract scale), but are really more about taking advantage of situations and how you choose to spend your dice in response to your opponent or in order to elicit a response from your opponent.

In short, you can use all the terrain mods and the rest without batting an eye at miniaures or even a drawing, because of how they're set up.


Yes, exactly. Thank you. Stick around in here, I may need the help to answer all the questions.


Your doubled-over opponent issue is VERY interesting, and could/would/should be handled with ease by the Seneschal/GM. No such tables are involved for such a thing (we have enough of those!), but if your GM didn't think of it you could mention it to him, and if a reasonable chap he'd arrange it that way (since it is very reasonable). The fact is that the combat sim is simple and can't possibly handle every situation that a proper GM could without oodles more tables. I say, whack him in the back as he buckles over!

Okay, I think that does it for now. Shop is "open," so post your questions here.

Jake Norwood
Creator, TROS
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant

Ron Edwards

Hi Jake,

Thanks for getting back to us! I also realized that you'd covered at least a couple more points than I thought on the thread, so double thanks for taking the time here as well.

I did manage to figure out the Accuracy thing, finally - to realize that the rules for adjusting the d6 roll are actually present in its description. Chalk it down to fuzzy thinking on my part.

I recognize the Wound/damage system without any trouble, so I'll have to re-state my question ... on the character sheet, next to each body part in the diagram, is a number. What is that, and how do you derive it?

Our phone conversation cleared up the sorcery question very well for me. I think the most important edit is to make sure that Duration, which cannot be a component of a Spell of One no matter what, gets removed from the list of Spell of One components. That's what kept throwing me while reading.

I've had a chance to play! Not much - I ran some nifty encounters with a lot chances to use Spiritual Attributes, and we ran through a couple quick combats. I've got a lot to say to folks about it, probably in a new thread, so stay tuned.


Jake Norwood

The numbers next to the body parts (a section that is significantly cleared up on the new character sheet available for download) are the armor modifiers, or the DV (Defense Value) of armor on those spots. That comes from a combination of common sense (heaven forbid!) as far as location goes, and the table on p. 85.

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant